A Place Where Everyone Learns to be Their Best Self

The Camp Harlam Blog

Home » A Place Where Everyone Learns to be Their Best Self

By Rabbi Stacy Rigler

This week I had the pleasure of helping Carmel prepare for the service.  A camper said to me, “Rabbi I have the seeking meaning bracelet, but I’m not sure what that means.”  “Seeking meaning is about learning more.” I told her, “Seeking meaning is just what you are doing, trying to understand something.  As a Jewish Life Advisor I come to camp to seek meaning – to learn from campers, staff, and leadership what is important to them, what everyday life is like, and how they are living their Jewish lives.  As a person who wants to grow, I come to camp to learn more about myself, to hit reset, and to try to understand who I am at this moment in time.

What I have learned in the past 16 months is that it is hard to seek meaning by yourself.  Binah, the Hebrew word for our middah, is about wisdom and undestanding.  “Who is wise?” our ancestors asked, “One who learns from all people”. (Pirke Avot).  What I have seen the three weeks at camp is just how true that can be.  One of the things that happens at camp that makes learning so profound, is the open and honest sharing.  When I sit in the chader ochel (dining hall), when I walk by a basketball game, when I hear campers on the porch, it is usual to hear one person saying to another.. I felt this when you did that.  Campers regular share with their bunkmates and counselors how other people’s actions impact their experiences.  This is true for staff and leadership as well.  Because we care about you, and want you to learn and grow, we want to reflect with you on an experience and think together about how it could go differently next time.  These conversations are hard to have.  Knowing that you did something that negatively affected someone is upsetting and uncomfortable.  And that type of discomfort is how we learn, how we make meaning, and how we grow.   This type of sharing and reflection, with an assumption of good well, and a desire to improve as a community, feels unique in our world.  As I have walked around camp listening and watching, it feels like an essential ingredient to the magic of camp.

Yesterday I was in a limmud (learning) session with Arava.  I was part of a group that was going to debate one side of an issue.  The campers in my group were really upset that they had to argue against an issue that they were for.  The struggled to make the case for the opposite side of the issue and had strong feelings about saying things out loud they didn’t feel were true for them.  We spent a little bit of time talking about how important it is to think about the opposite side of a debate, to understand what someone else might think.  We talked about how understanding someone else’s point of view is a way to bring two sides closer together.  That conversation was hard for them, it was uncomfortable to pretend to believe something they didn’t believe.  Some decided not to act out the part because it didn’t feel right, but they all gained new meaning from the activity.

It is true that camp is a place where everyone learns to be their best self.  What I realize from being here is how important relationships and community are to that process.  The past 16 months have been hard ones, even for those of us who didn’t face illness and/or other significant life changes.  It is hard to be your best self alone.  At its core Jewish tradition reminds us that we need one another, we need to be in community.  Together we help each other find meaning, and really grow.

Rabbi Stacy Rigler is on of the Jewish Life Advisors this summer.  She and her husband Peter are proud camp alumni and parent of 3 campers.